“This is a defining moment for the Republican Party,” said GOP strategist Leslie Sanchez. “If Republicans don’t heed this warning, we are certainly in danger of becoming politically irrelevant at a national level.”
Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions, a nonpartisan polling and research firm, said that in Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico, “Latino voters by themselves provided Obama with the margin of victory.” He also said the 2012 election shows that in key states — such as Ohio and Florida — a strong showing from Latinos and African Americans “in tandem” was a difference maker.
The Republican Party, he said, “will be doomed if they lose black and Latino votes by these same margins in the future.”
In many battleground states that were a key to winning the election, efforts to get Latinos registered and to the polls appear to have provided an edge for Obama.
The president himself was keenly aware of the importance of the Latino voting bloc before the election. “Should I win a second term,” Obama told the Des Moines Register last month, “a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community.”
The Hispanic vote undoubtedly helped Obama in Florida, where the Puerto Rican population in particular has boomed in recent years in the central part of the state, and where the president held a slight lead Wednesday as officials continued tallying votes.
Many of the new residents in places such as Osceola County — just south of Orlando — are Republicans who twice helped elect Jeb Bush as governor. But the area also went for Obama in 2008 and 2012. Perhaps most important, unlike many other Hispanic groups, Puerto Ricans are American citizens. They have no say in presidential elections back on the island, but in Florida, they are changing the electoral map.
“Here, we get to vote for president, and it matters. We have a voice,” chef Jesus Chevres, 53, said in his native Spanish on Wednesday, while preparing fried plantains and roast pork for the lunchtime crowd at the Broadway Restaurant in downtown Kissimmee.
The increase in Hispanic voting is a reflection of demographic changes, experts said, as non-
Hispanic whites account for a smaller share of the overall population. Exit polls showed 72 percent of voters were non-Hispanic whites, the lowest percentage since 1972.